Manufacturing and the State of the Union
14. February 2013
In his State of the Union speech last night, President Obama outlined a broad and ambitious agenda for his second term in office. One of his stated objectives is to increase the output of America's manufacturing sector. This is a worthwhile ambition, and one that every citizen in the US should support. The problem is that it is far from clear that Obama knows how to accomplish this goal.
As I said, the speech last night was broad and ambitious. And that is its biggest flaw. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The primary focus of every policymaker in Washington, including the President, should be making this country more productive. The only way for America to generate enough wealth to ensure that all its citizens have the opportunity to become increasingly prosperous is to make our economic engine as efficient and competitive as possible. President Obama made numerous references last in his speech to strengthening the middle class, but the government cannot create or expand a middle-class. That is something that takes a vibrant and growing economy. Obama seems to have it backwards.
I recognize and readily support the notion that we must improve our nation's infrastructure. Government has a role in investing in large projects that enhance our ability to transport goods and people, generate and distribute energy, and communicate. Government also has a role in providing educational opportunities to its citizens, and this includes facilitating basic research. These functions most assuredly make our nation more productive, and they are worthy of further investment by the Federal government.
President Obama mentioned all of these functions last night, as well as many others. That is the problem. The crucial parts of the speech that pertained to improving our nation's economic productivity were diluted by all of the other initiatives he offered up for political support. The irony is that the country’s economic competitiveness is not really a partisan issue-- everybody desires it. The problem for the past few years is that the policymakers in Washington cannot stop playing politics long enough to govern in a way that promotes the country’s long-term economic prosperity. And based on last night's speech, it does not appear that this is going to change anytime soon.